Category Archives: Romance

Quackser Fortune Has a Cousin in the Bronx (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: He learns to adapt.

Quackser (Gene Wilder), a nickname given to him as an infant because he would make noises that sounded like a duck, enjoys his life working an alternative job that has him scooping up horse manure from the streets of Dublin, Ireland and then reselling it as fertilizer. His parents (May Ollis, Seamus Forde), of which he still lives with, feels this is not a suitable long term profession as it will never pay enough for him to live on his own, but Quackser refuses to work at the refinery where everyone else in his neighborhood does. He then meets Zazel (Margot Kidder) an American college student who’s studying abroad. He hopes to start up a relationship with her, but finds this to be a challenge when the milk company replaces all of their horse drawn carriages with trucks, which takes all the horses off of the streets. With no horses there’s no manure forcing Quackser to consider other ways to make  an income.

The script, by Gabriel Walsh, has a wonderfully unpretentious quality to it as it tells a story about a simple man living a simple life and on that level it succeeds and even stands out as so many other films seem to feel the need to jazz things up, but this one doesn’t. I particularly liked the on-location shooting done in Dublin that nicely captures Quackser’s humble economic settings and the starkness of his blue collar neighborhood and yet later in the film we see him inside a luxurious hotel, which is also inside the same city. I found this fascinating as it shows how close in physical proximity Quackser is to the more affluent area, but economically, and educational-wise, he was still a long way from ever getting there.

Wilder plays his part quite well if you can get past his thick Irish accent, which is off-putting at first. I liked how he approaches the character as not being this one-dimensional simpleton, but someone who, despite being an overall nice person, can have his angry and even arrogant side to him. Kidder is at her peak of youthful beauty and their quasi-romance allows for an interesting dynamic although I did find it put a strain on the plausibility.

My biggest complaint was that I couldn’t understand why this attractive young woman from a completely different socio-economic background would find this poor, less educated individual so fascinating, or why she’d want to bother to get to know him better. As a quant little friendship it might’ve possibly worked, but as a relationship, even a potential one, it was just too much of a stretch especially with such a drastic 15-year age difference. Sharing a passing kiss during a random moment is as far as this thing would’ve gotten in real-life, but to have her later on go to bed with him, not so much because she loves him, but more as a ‘pity-fuck’ before she leaves, is something that only happens in movieland. It’s also never clear whether she genuinely likes the guy, or has a secret cruel streak and enjoys setting him up for humiliation as there are times when it could easily be seen as going either way.

Spoiler Alert!

The twist ending where Quackser inherits a load of money from his cousin in the Bronx, which he uses to buy a bus in order to be a tour guide when he realizes he can no longer collect manure, doesn’t work. For one thing why did this cousin just out-of-the-blue give the money to Quackser not the other family members as well especially since the two shared no special relationship, or correspondence? Having him go to the Bronx like he was initially going to do and maybe get a job recycling trash would’ve been more of a connection to what he had done in the past. Even having him working in the refinery, which he dreaded, but finding it not as bad as he feared, or that he could do some function there different than the others, which would make him feel ‘special’ would’ve been a better ending, but either way it’s still a cute movie perfect for those looking for a working class ‘kitchen-and-sink’ drama without any of the fashionable dressings.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 13, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Waris Hussein

Studio: Universal Marion Corporation

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

A Different Story (1978)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Homosexuals in heterosexual relationship.

Albert (Perry King) works as a chauffeur to famous pianist Sills (Peter Donat) and he’s also his part-time lover, but when Sills finds another man Albert gets put on the street and must seek refuge as a squatter. Stella (Meg Foster) is a real estate agent who finds Albert taking up residence in one of the homes she’s trying to sell. She decides to let him move in with her and since both of them are gay they partake in a platonic friendship. Then immigration comes looking for him since he’s also an illegal alien from Belgium. In an effort to prevent his deportation Stella decides to marry him and they soon become romantic including having sex and a baby, but just as things seem to blossom Stella becomes concerned that Albert may be seeing someone behind her back.

While this movie may have seemed ‘groundbreaking’ when it came out it has not aged well and features an assortment of issues starting with the whole botched premise. Having a single woman take in a virtual stranger is never a good idea. If you have concern for a homeless person direct them to the nearest shelter, but inviting them back to your place is clearly dangerous. Perhaps because she knew he was gay she thought he’d be ‘safe’, but just because he’s not going to rape you doesn’t mean he might not rob her when she was away.

The characterization of Albert works too much off gay stereotypes such as having him into cooking, cleaning, and even dress designing. The film should’ve challenged the viewer’s perception of gay people by working against the cliché by having him into auto repair, football, and drinking beer instead. I also thought it was dumb that, in an effort to hide that he was gay, Stella pretends to have made the dinner when her parents (Richard Bull, Barbara Collentine) arrive for a visit, but why couldn’t she just have introduced Albert as her straight male friend who just happens to be a great cook, or are we to presume that every male chef out there is secretly gay?

Spoiler Alert!

The third act is when it jumps-the-shark not so much with the introduction of the baby, which was bad enough, but more when Albert starts fooling around on Stella with another woman! The whole idea that simply having feelings for a member of the opposite sex would magically ‘ungay’ a person, or that ‘love can change everything’ is just not true. The initial gay theme gets totally lost and it starts to resemble a flick about a straight married couple instead. In the end there’s just nothing different about this ‘different story’, which is the whole problem.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: May 10, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 48 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Paul Aaron

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Wedding Band (1989)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: He loves his job.

Marshall (William Katt) is the lead singer for a band that plays at weddings. Karla (Joyce Hyser) is a wedding planner, who has been dating Marshall for 5 years. The two finally get engaged, but now Karla wants Marshall to ‘become responsible’ by getting a ‘real job’, but Marshall loves his band so much that he doesn’t want to give it up even if it doesn’t pay that well.

Misfire comedy, written by Tino Insana who also plays the character of Hugh Bowmont, that tries hard to be a rom-com while also mixing in a playfully surreal element, but it doesn’t gel.  The problem lies with a storyline that is too basic and offers no insight or nuance. I worked as a DJ for weddings back in the 90’s and none of the experiences I or my friends went through gets examined here. In real-life there’s always concerns about getting paid, or tipped, or how much of a tip you’ll get. Or there’s the issues of dealing with a Bridezilla, or Groomzilla for that matter that insist everything must be perfect and if even one thing isn’t they refuse to pay, or demand a refund. Faulty equipment and obnoxious, drunk party guests are other headaches that just about every wedding DJ, singer, or photographer will have horror stories about and yet none of these things gets touched upon here. It’s almost like the filmmakers never worked as a wedding singer themselves, had no idea what it was really like, and just made up goofy scenarios that have no bearing in reality whatsoever.

The relationship angle comes off as quite sterile as the two don’t seem to have anything in common and you wonder what attracted them to each other in the first place. I couldn’t understand why Karla would be surprised that Marshall didn’t want to quit his job and do something that he didn’t enjoy. She was supposedly ‘really into him’, so she should’ve known about his passion for his job and if she got into a relationship with him that most likely the job would come with it. It’s clear to the viewer right away that he enjoys being a wedding singer, so after dating him for 5 years why is it not clear for her?

There are a few quirky moments like the segment dealing with a bug exterminator, but this has nothing to do with the main story and doesn’t even have either of the main characters in it. If they wanted to show part-time work that Marshall needed to do on the side to help supplement his income then great, but having a lot of drawn-out scenes dealing with what his bandmates do in their private time does not work because it’s the main characters that the viewer should be into not the minor supporting ones.

Some familiar faces who were not yet famous pop-up in bit parts. Some of these include Robert Wuhl as a waiter, David Rashe as a man who loves his DeLorean car above all else, Eddie Deezen as a would-be professional clown, and Pauly Shore as a a guy who does band rehearsals in his garage that annoy his neighbors. Cult film director Penelope Spheeris also appears as Shore’s defensive mother, but she delivers her lines in such a poor way that it’s clear she’s best behind the camera. My favorite actor out of all of them was Fran Drescher, who plays Karla’s friend and is so good, without having to try all that hard, that she should’ve played the main character as both Hyser and Katt are deadly dull, which is another reason why this already botched film doesn’t work.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: October 28, 1989

Runtime: 1 Hour 22 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Daniel Raskov

Studio: IRS Media

Available: VHS

Three for the Road (1987)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Transporting politician’s bratty daughter.

Paul (Charlie Sheen) aspires to have a career in politics and is an ardent believer in the political system and the politicians who work in it. He becomes an aide to Senator Kitteridge (Raymond J. Berry) where he gets assigned to transport the senator’s rebellious daughter Robin (Kerri Green) to an institution for troubled girls. Paul’s writer roommate T.S. (Alan Ruck) comes along with him, but they face many hurdles keeping Robin under control. Eventually Paul bonds with her when he realizes her father isn’t really the great guy he pretends to be, but instead an abuser.

This film is yet another victim of a script, which was written by Richard Martini, that was intended to be far different than what it turned out to be. Originally the idea was to center it on the political angle where the father was a conservative who wanted to put Robin into hiding simply because she was a liberal activist stirring up trouble. Yet after extensive rewrites by three other writers the story becomes just another shallow romance-on-the-road flick that shifts to extremes from slapstick comedy to hackney drama.

One of the things that’s most problematic is the father asking a young man who he really doesn’t know to transport his daughter to some far off location and even gives him handcuffs to use on her just in case she gets ‘out-of-line’, but what sort of parent would hand his teen daughter over to a virtual stranger and trust he won’t rape her? A far more plausible premise would’ve had him entrusting his daughter to a longtime friend, who he at least had better reason to trust. Instead of having her go with guys around her same age, where sexual urges are high, the escort could’ve been middle-aged. Yes, this would take away the teen romance element, which quite frankly comes-off as formuliac and forced anyways, but it could also have brought up generational issues, which would’ve been more interesting.

Sheen, who has described this film as being “a piece of shit that I wished didn’t exist and that I was terrible in”, is actually the best thing in it. I enjoyed seeing him play this straight-lace guy, which he is good at doing, that completely works against his real-life party-boy image. The only issue with him is that his character arc, where he starts out believing in the integrity of the senator father only to eventual grow disillusioned with him, is too predictable and obvious. Most people, even back in the 80’s, had a cynical take on politicians just like they do now. A far better arc would’ve had him cynical about politics, getting into it as an aide simply to boost his career, but not actually believing in the system, only to find much to his surprise that there actually was at least one politician that was honorable.

Green’s character plays too much into the ‘wild teen’ stereotype and her outrageous antics are more obnoxious than funny. She’s also too short and seemingly too young for Sheen, making the romance seem off-kilter. I also didn’t like that during the trip the main characters come into contact with the same people they’ve bumped into before. I’ve taken many long road trips and have never encountered this phenomenon and it really doesn’t add anything to the script especially since the person they keep crossing paths with is a brainless jock (Eric Bruskotter) that culminates into a silly car chase that just succeeds at making the whole thing even more inane than it already is.

There’s enough action and twists to keep it going, but it also becomes increasingly more strained as it goes along. The tacked-on drama along with the over-the-top prison break, which gets pulled-off in too easily a fashion, is particularly torturous and makes this one road trip you won’t mind missing.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: April 10, 1987

Runtime: 1 Hour 28 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: B.W.L. Norton

Studio: New Century Vista Film Company

Available: DVD

The FJ Holden (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: A youth’s aimless life.

Kevin (Paul Couzens) is a teen over 18 still living at home with his parents (Roy Corbett, Beryl Marshall). Most of his time is spent being idle while driving around in his refurbished FJ Holden and getting drunk with his best friend Bob (Carl Stever). One day while hanging out at a mall Kevin spots Anne (Eva Dickinson) and gives her a ride in his car and eventually the two start going out. Everything goes well for awhile until Kevin makes love to Anne with the bedroom door still open, so that Bob can watch. When Anne realizes what’s going on she kicks Kevin out of the house and breaks off their relationship, but Kevin refuses to let it go and tries to rekindle things with her later at a party, which causes tensions with the other partygoers and the home owner.

I’ve stated many times that I wished Hollywood movies wouldn’t feel so compelled to rush through a story as they do and allow scenes more time to be strung-out and not edit things so quickly. Allowing things to unfold at a more leisurely pace gives the viewer a chance to soak in the setting and characters better without having to be told what to think or feel, but this film goes to the other extreme. The pace meanders so much you become bored and lose focus. There’s just not enough going on to keep you interested or intrigued.

That’s not to say it’s a bad movie as I liked the technical approach, which puts the actors in public settings, but with regular people in the back drop as opposed to film extras. You get more of a realistic atmosphere this way particularly the scenes at the mall, which before the advent of social media, skype, and texting was a social hotspot for most teens to meet other people and hang-out. The story though, which was based on loosely constructed comic poems, is not structured enough to remain engaging. The dialogue is too generic and the situations they go through, whether it’s making love in the backseat of a car, or drag racing, have all been done in many other teen flicks, so watching it here just makes it seem all the more redundant and pointless.

There manages to be a a few interesting bits here and there, but overall it’s a sluggish experience. Only at the very end when Kevin confronts Anne at the party is there are any real potential for dramatic sparks, but it doesn’t get played-out enough. I was hoping for a full-out brawl to make-up for all the boredom that had come before it, but director Michael Thornhill, who has found critical acclaim with some of his later films, just wasn’t confident enough apparently to push this thing full-throttle, which ultimately makes it bland and forgettable.

The car itself doesn’t play as much into the plot as you’d expect and in a lot of ways I didn’t find it all that impressive. It’s a model of car that was built in Australia between the years of 1953 to 1956 and through the decades over 20 car clubs have been formed in Australia committed to preserving the vehicle, and every other year thousands of car enthusiasts gather to celebrate the old-style car, but to me it came off looking old and clunky like something your grandfather would drive and did not have the sleek sports car design that most young men like to be seen in. The car eventually, during the film’s second half, gets painted bright yellow, which makes it look like a taxi cab, but during the first part it’s not painted at all and looks rusty like it had been pulled from the junkyard and what most people would be embarrassed to be seen with and not something to invite a girl for a ride in to impress her even though that’s what happens here.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: April 29, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 41 Minutes

Rated M (Originally rated R)

Director: Michael Thornhill

Studio: FJ Films

Available: DVD

The World’s Greatest Lover (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Seeking silent film stardom.

Adolph Zitz (Dom DeLuise) is upset that Rainbow Studios, which he heads, is not making as much of a profit as his rival and figures it’s because they don’t have silent film star Rudolph Valentino. He decides, after a meeting with his yes men who constantly surround him, to put out a national search for the world’s greatest lover who will come to Hollywood for a screen test to then become the next big star to rival that of Valentino. Rudy (Gene Wilder) is a hapless baker recently fired from his job who figures that entering this contest could be his ticket out of his penniless doldrums and travels to Hollywood for a screen test. However, once they get there his wife (Carol Kane) breaks away from him and sneaks off to the rival studio in order to try and have a chance encounter with her screen idol Rudolph Valentino (Matt Collins).

While the film did well at the box office bringing in a profit of $21 million off of a $4.8 million budget it flopped badly with the critics who ravaged both Wilder’s screenplay and direction. In a lot of ways they had valid points as the script veers off from the main theme quite a bit and seeming more like a collection of broad gags than a story. The comic bits take a long time to play out becoming almost like skits within a movie. The period atmosphere is poor and you never feel like you’re being transported back to a different era, or that there was even much thought or effort in this area to be authentic. Wilder’s character is problematic too. He can be great when he’s in an exasperated, frantic state and shouting at the top of his lungs, but he goes to this well too often making his character come-off as abrasive.

The one thing that saves it is that it’s surprisingly quite funny. I found myself laugh- out-out-loud at a lot of the bits no matter how meandering they became and really enjoyed the reaction shots from the supporting players. My favorite segment is when Wilder and Kane stay at a hotel with a sunken living room, which accidently gets filled up with water and then Wilder goes swimming in it and pretends it’s a pool when some family members of his come to visit. I also liked how it ultimately drains out onto some guests below who are ordering dinner. I even found the running joke dealing with DeLuise and his man servant barber (played by Michael Huddleston the son of character actor David Huddleston who also appears in the movie) and how he eventually learns to trust his business advice after always beating him up about it first.

The film manages to also make some interesting observations about people although this too borders a bit on getting botched particularly the scene where Kane goes into a tent to meet with what she thinks is Valentino, but really Wilder wearing a veil over the bottom of his face. However, it is clear to the audience just by looking at his eyes, which are very distinct, that it’s Wilder, so if it’s obvious to us it should be obvious to her since she’s been living with him for many years, but it isn’t. I did do like the point that the scene makes where she never enjoyed the sex with her hubby, but when she thought her hubby was somebody else suddenly the sex was ‘great’, which shows how much fantasy works into love making and a fundamental part of its enjoyment.

Wilder’s screen tests are quite amusing too and overall I found myself laughing consistently all the way through. If you’re looking for something light and comical that’s even a bit romantic then this should do the trick.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 16, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Gene Wilder

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD

Xanadu (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Artist falls for muse.

Sonny (Michael Beck) is a struggling artist finding it impossible to make a living on his own forcing him to go back to working for Airflow records where his creative aspirations are squelched by business demands. He then starts bumping into Kira (Olivia Newton-John) and begins falling for her hard unaware that she isn’t human but instead a muse sent from another galaxy to help achieve his true artistic vision. She sets it up where he meets Danny (Gene Kelly) a former big band musician. Together he and Sonny work out a plan to turn an old empty building into a live music venue.

One of the bigger problems of this flamboyant concoction is that it doesn’t seem like hardly a movie at all as the story is threadbare and features a lot of banal dialogue and sterile characterizations between the musical numbers. The chief reason for this, at least according to Olivia on the DVD commentary, is that the script was written on the fly as the filming took place almost like something a bunch of amateurs would do. There is a rumor though that producer Joel Silver early on did lock one of the writers into a room for a couple of days and refusing to let him out until he ‘delivered’ a ‘great script’, which if that were the case then the writer should still be stuck there because that great script clearly never came about.

Fans of the movie will admit that the acting and plot are poor, but insist that the songs and set pieces make up for it, but it really doesn’t. A few of them were okay like the battle of the bands segment where at one end of the warehouse a 40’s band plays while at the end there’s a hard rock 80’s band only to eventually have them both merge. Overall though I found a lot the musical numbers to be surprisingly bland and uninspired with the best ones, which include Kelly dancing alongside Olivia and an animated segment, all getting added in after the primary filming had already completed.

Olivia is quite beautiful and I love her effervescent smile, but she’s no leading lady. Her singing is excellent, but has an actress her talent seems limited to playing only perky characters, so while this film was meant to jettison her career it instead only stifled it. Kelly, whose last film role this was, is engaging in support even though he pretty much just spends most of the time smiling and not much else.

The real surprise is seeing Beck. He had just come off his strong portrayal of Swan in the mega cult hit The Warriors and was at that point a hot commodity poised to be a Hollywood leading man for years to come, but instead pissed it all away by choosing this stinker as his follow-up. Since this thing bombed badly at the box office the subsequent offers he got were of the TV-movie and low budget variety.  I’m just not sure what he was thinking. It couldn’t have been the script that attracted him since there really wasn’t any. I can only presume he thought with Olivia on board and with the success she had with Grease that this would be a big hit like that one, so he took a calculate gamble and jumped-in, but it was clearly a big mistake.

The great actor Jack Lemmon once said only take movie roles if you’ve read the script and like it never just because you think it will be a hit because you’ll usually be proven wrong and I guess Beck had to learn that the hard way. He now makes a living solely by attending fan conventions where he signs autographs, but he never talks or promotes his appearance here just his work on The Warriors. I can only presume he’s embarrassed by it and he should be. It’s one thing to be in a lousy movie, but still give a strong performance, but his acting here is just as bad as the film and was enough to get him nominated for the Golden Raspberry Award as worst actor of 1980 though he ended up losing out to Neil Diamond in The Jazz Singer. 

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: August 8, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Robert Greenwald

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

Kiss Me Goodbye (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Her dead husband returns.

Three years after the death of her husband Jolly (James Caan) Kay (Sally Field) decides to move back into the house where her husband met his untimely fate when he fell down the home’s marble staircase. As she and her mother (Claire Trevor) get the home prepared for the arrival of her fiance Rupert (Jeff Bridges) she suddenly sees the vision of Jolly’s ghost in front of her. Only she can see, or hear it, which causes a great deal of confusion to those around her who all think she’s gone completely crazy.

The film is a loose remake of the Brazilian hit Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands, which in itself was based on the 1966 novel of the same name by Jorge Amado although this one does not have the erotic edge that made that film so famous. The comedy takes too long to get going, is a bit heavy-handed at times, and puts no new interesting spin on the ghost theme making it seem like just another modern updating of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.

The introduction of the ghost should’ve occurred after the couple was already married instead of before as it offers both Rupert and Kay too much of an easy out and the stakes needed to be higher. Kay still seemed very much in love with Jolly as she had a complete shrine of him in one of their rooms, so it would seem once the ghost of him arrived she’d have second thoughts of going through with the marriage even though that’s not what happens. As for Rupert it would’ve made more sense had he just walked out of the situation altogether since all the red-flags where there even before the ghost came about that she wasn’t completely over her first marriage and unable to give Rupert the full attention that he  wanted.

The cast is game for the most part although I felt Bridges looked much too boyish here almost like he was still in high school. Caan though is quite engaging and the one element that holds it all together even though he apparently disliked doing it. It’s also great seeing Claire Trevor in her first film appearance in 15 years and the outfits and hats that she wears look quite chic. Paul Dooley has a good funny bit at the end playing a former priest who tries to exorcise the ghost out of the home, which he mistakenly thinks possesses Kay’s dog (Shakespeare).

Much to my surprise I ended up laughing much more than I thought I would. Two of my favorite moments occurs when Rupert and Kay go traveling to a country lodge and stop off at a cafe where Rupert pretends to have a conversation with the ghost much to the confusion of a young boy (Barret Oliver) sitting at the table next to him. The fight that the two have later on while at the lodge, which causes the break-up of another couple (Alan Haufrect, Maryedith Burrell), who start to take sides, is quite good too.

Spoiler Alert!

I was laughing so hard at points I was ready to give this a 7 or 8 rating, but then it gets ruined by the stupid ending. The idea that the ghost would agree to just leave and never come back again was too convenient. Why would he have bothered to come back to this life at all, if he was going to be gotten rid of so easily?

Having Rupert slip down the same staircase that took Jolly’s life looks cheesy and unintentional funny. Jolly’s death was cheesy enough, but to do it a second time with someone else was dumb and what’s worse is that Rupert, even when he smashes his head onto the hard ground, comes back to life with no injuries. Why even have this scene at all if there was no point to it?

A better ending would’ve had Rupert killed the same way as Jolly and then come back as a ghost just like Jolly and then Kay could’ve enjoyed the two men at the same time. Possibly even have the menage a trois that had been tapped into in the first film, but nixed here because it was deemed American audiences would’ve been too prudish to accept.

I also thought it was a bit unbelievable that Jolly had all these affairs behind Kay’s back while he was alive and she seemed to have no clue it was going on. Most married people usually have a sense something isn’t right even if they can’t prove it. Having Kay’s friend Emily (Dorothy Fielding) admit to fooling around with Jolly and Kay not be bothered by it and just go on being friends with her didn’t jibe with me either.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: December 22, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 41 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Robert Mulligan

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD

Annie Hall (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 10 out of 10

4-Word Review: The perfect date movie.

Alvy Singer (Woody Allen) is a professional stand-up comic going through a mid-life crises. Now in his 40’s he’s already been twice divorced and feeling like he may be unable to get into a solid, satisfying relationship. Then he meets Annie (Diane Keaton).  The two forge ahead into a relationship and things work well for awhile, but then the insecurities from both partners begin creating issues.

This film, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture, as well as Best Screenplay and Best Director (Academy Award for Best Actress too) has all the trappings of what I consider to be the perfect date movie. Some may disagree as the relationship between these two characters remains rocky throughout, but that’s why I think it’s so good. Other romance movies gloss over the different stages that a relationship goes through. They either rush past the start making it seem like the two people fall-in-love at first glance and immediately become a couple, or focus too heavily on the ups-and-downs of the dating phase, but then once they get married act like it’s ‘happily-ever-after’.

Here we’re given the whole shebang. We see the awkward start, which forms into an equally awkward relationship that eventually unravels once both partners realize they have different needs, much like in reality. I enjoyed how each person plays the same role, but at different times. Sometimes it’s Annie that wants to rekindle the romance while at other points she wants to break free and then at times its reversed with Alvy being the one trying to leave, or wanting to get back together. This is why I consider this to be a good date movie, especially for young couples, as they need to see that a relationship is a work in progress that constantly needs nourishing. The dynamics can evolve and both partners must be willing to adjust to the every changing needs of the other in order to keep it going.

The film is also filled with a lot of funny highly original bits that I haven’t seen done before or since. I loved the segment where subtitles get added to a scene revealing what Annie and Alvy are really thinking about each other while they have a psuedo intellectual conversation. The scene where the spirit/soul of Annie steps out of her body and then sits and watches Alvy and Annie making love in bed is funny too as is the dueling analysts bit (where the screen is split and  we see/hear Alvy and Annie talking about their romantic difficulties to their respective therapists at the same time.) This same approach occurs again with Alvy and Annie’s ‘dueling families’. Honorable mention must also go to animated bit with Woody and the Evil Queen from Snow White.

The only sad aspect is that the movie’s original cut ran 2 Hours and 4 Minutes, but the studio wanted it whittled down to a 90 minute runtime forcing many other potentially engaging bits to end up on the cutting room floor. Some of the bits that sound interesting featured Alvy’s grade school classmates in the present day, a junk food restaurant segment with Danny Aiello, as well as a fantasy segment where the New York Knicks basketball team competes against a team of 5 philosophers. Another scene had Alvy and Annie visiting hell that was reworked 20 years later and put into the film Deconstructing Harry.

Spoiler Alert!

Some of my film friends consider the ending to be an unhappy one, but I disagree. Yes, their relationship ultimately doesn’t work out and they decide to just remain friends instead, but for some couples this is actually the best option. The two were still on speaking terms and weren’t stalking or jealous of each other. Both had adjusted to the breakup and were ready to move-on. Not every relationship your in, even the ones that were fun for awhile, are meant to last and that’s okay.

My Rating: 10 out of 10

Released: March 27, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Woody Allen

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Man with Two Brains (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Brain in a jar.

Dr. Michael Hfuhruhurr (Steve Martin) is a world famous brain surgeon who accidentally hits Dolores Benedict (Kathleen Turner) one day while driving his car. He immediately does surgery on her and during the recovery the two get married. However, Dolores is only interested in Michael’s money and continues to see other men behind his back. Michael on-the-other hand  meets with Dr. Alfred Necessiter (David Warner) who keeps live brains in jars in his condo. Michael (Steve Martin) begins communicating with one of the brains (voice of Sissy Spacek) via telepathy and decides it is she that he really loves. When he becomes aware that the brain will not survive much longer on its own he desperately tries to find a suitable body to transplant it into.

This Steve Martin/Carl Reiner production, which is their third project together, certainly has its moments and I particularly liked the the mysterious elevator killer although once his identity is finally revealed viewers today will have no idea who that person actually is. However for the most part the film is highly uneven. Having it centered as a horror movie parody would’ve given it better focus and the jokes more of a point-of-view instead of just throwing in any haphazard gag it wants many of which have nothing to do with its already paper thin plot.

I realize this is all meant to be a very silly comedy, but having two victims get hit by a vehicle, once with Turner and then later on with Stephanie Kramer, in her film debut, where neither victim shows any sign of blood, scratches, or bruising is a bit ridiculous. This is where if it had been approached as a horror/comedy then they could’ve thrown in some gore, but in an over-the-top goofy way, that would’ve allowed a new dimension for laughs while also given it just a smidgen of reality to it, which otherwise is lacking.

Martin’s ability to have a conversation with a brain in a jar without any special apparatus connecting the two is equally ridiculous. The excuse is that it’s ‘telepathy’, but why is he able to communicate with just the one brain when there are many others that are also in the room? What special ability does this brain have over the others and why is Martin the only one that can hear it and no one else?

Having Martin hear Spacek’s voice as her thoughts come into his brain doesn’t make sense either. The definition of telepathy is the  communication of thoughts and ideas other than the known senses, but nothing to do with voices. Thoughts in themselves don’t have a distinct voice connected to them unless the brain is attached to a voice box, which this one isn’t.  It is true that thoughts going on in person’t own head may have that person’s voice, so Martin should actually be hearing his own voice as his brain deciphers the messages being sent to it from the other one much like if he were reading out loud a note that had been written by someone else.

This also marks an odd career choice for Turner who burst onto the scene with her sexy performance in Body Heat . I realize that in her effort to avoid typecasting she wanted to do something that was completely different from her first film, but her character is too campy and one-dimensional and she ends up getting completely upstaged by Martin in every scene they’re in. The role also has a creepy foreshadowing as her character gains a lot of weight much like she has in reality due to her rheumatoid arthritis. In real-life it’s the drugs and chemo that caused the weight gain while here it’s created through make-up and a body suit and intended for comical effect.

There’s also an interesting behind-the-scenes story dealing with a scene involving a 5-year-old girl, played by Mya Stark, who must verbally repeat back to Martin from memory a very complicated set of directions that he had just told her. Since she was too young to read no cue cards were used and director Reiner figured it would take all day to film the scene convinced that many retakes would inevitably be required for her to finally get the lines right, but instead to his shock she repeated the lines back correctly the very first time. Then 30 years later in 2012 Reiner was standing in line at a store when a female business executive approached him and introduced herself. She stated that they had met many years before, but Reiner didn’t recognize her until she told him that she was that little girl now all grown up.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: June 3, 1983

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Carl Reiner

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube